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Gulf of Aden: The dying continues despite multi-agency efforts

Briefing notes

Gulf of Aden: The dying continues despite multi-agency efforts

14 September 2007 Also available in:

Only 10 days after the resumption of smuggling across the Gulf of Aden, at least 56 people have died violently while trying to make the perilous crossing from Somalia to Yemen.

Since September 3, UNHCR Yemen has recorded the arrival of 12 boats carrying 925 Somalis, Ethiopians and others. Another smuggler's boat apparently failed to reach Yemen after encountering problems about 100 km west of Bosaso in Somalia's Puntland region.

We received reports yesterday (Thursday) that at least 100 Somalis aboard this vessel made it back to shore in Somalia after being adrift for six days. Many of them had been beaten, and some were reportedly doused with acid by the smugglers. The bodies of those who did not survive the six-day ordeal were reportedly thrown overboard. We do not have the numbers of those who died there.

The most recent arrivals in Yemen told us that they were beaten by smugglers during the trip and that 24 people on their boat had died - three as a result of beatings, 11 who had been crammed into the hold of the boat, and 10 who drowned in deep waters offshore. They also told us that once they reached shore, they came under fire from military forces based in the region of Jalbad. One Ethiopian was wounded and transferred for medical assistance by UNHCR. The passengers - most of them from volatile areas in Somalia and the increasingly unstable Ogaden zone in Ethiopia - said they paid between $US 70-$150 to make the crossing. There were also two Sudanese among the group, and they expressed a desire to seek asylum in Yemen.

The deaths in the Gulf of Aden are a reminder of the risks taken every year by thousands of people resorting to smugglers in the Gulf of Aden, the Mediterranean and other waters. In recent months, international agencies working in Somalia have joined forces and set up a task force to better address the problem. UNHCR has scaled up its presence to some 25 staff in Somalia's Puntland and is preparing as a first step - with partners like OCHA [UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and IOM [International Organization for Migration] - an information campaign aimed at warning people of the risks they face in using smugglers. Leaflets are being prepared for dissemination by outreach teams all over Puntland and Somaliland. Radio spots are developed as well. At the same time, UNHCR is working on improving access to protection and basic services inside Somalia for those in need of international protection. This could offer a safer alternative for refugees and internally displaced. While we are hoping that such measures will decrease the number of departures, they will be far from sufficient to bring the movement to a halt. Root causes like war, human rights violations, persecution and poverty force people to leave their homes, and unless these are properly addressed, the tragedy will continue.

So far in 2007, more than 10,000 people have reportedly arrived in Yemen in 103 boats. A total of 282 people died while 159 remain missing and presumed dead. In 2006, nearly 29,000 people were recorded arriving in Yemen in 237 boats. At least 328 people died and 310 were recorded as missing last year.